Water for tribal communities
“I’ve made a conscious effort to ground my work in engineering and science first, but I don’t think you can talk about these issues without bringing in policy and environmental justice and health and the tribal communities themselves,” said Grace Bulltail, an assistant professor of Native American Environment, Health, and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for the Environment.
Bulltail is a member of the Crow Tribe in Montana who has spent most of her career studying the connection between land use, resource production, and water management, specifically in tribal waterways. “Where I grew up in southeastern Montana, water resources were minimal and we had to haul our own drinking water. That’s pretty common in rural tribal communities so water is a precious commodity. On the other hand, we are rich in coal and research has shown me that the United States has pushed to settle water claims with tribes in order to gain access to resources like coal.”
Bulltail previously worked as an engineer for tribal governments on water resource projects, including completing work on an initial water settlement for her own tribe. She knows that resource development often threatens water resources, so she’s tried to understand how that impacts communities.
“I hope to make my classroom look more inclusive than the ones I was in, and that will certainly impact how I direct my research projects,” Bulltail said. “I want to work with students who may find themselves in the same gray areas I did and for them to be more comfortable with centering their work in research that brings up issues that are inherent in many marginalized communities.”